Apple’s Thunderbolt Cable: It’s Full of Chips

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Think Apple’s Thunderbolt cable is just a couple wires and plugs? Think again. The cable looks more like a miniature computer than cable inside, which explains its hefty US$49 price tag.

Inside Apple's Thunderbolt cableInside Apple’s Thunderbolt cable
Image courtesy of iFixit

The iFixit team got their hands on an Apple Thunderbolt cable and split it open like a snake to see what’s inside — a procedure we don’t recommend since it’s a one-way process that will leave you with an unusable $49 string of wire and plastic.

Inside they found two Gennum GN2033 chips along with several other smaller chips and resistors. “All in all, Apple’s $50 cable contained a total of 12 larger, inscribed chips, and tons of smaller electronic components,” the iFixit team said.

Those Gennum-made chips are critical to the cable’s performance since their designed to ensure reliable data transfer over copper wires.

My god! It's full of chips!They are more than just plugs an wires inside a Thunderbolt cable
Image courtesy of iFixit

Since Thunderbolt, currently available on the more recent MacBook Pro and iMac, offers dual-channel 10 gb/s data throughput, Apple needed some extra tech to make sure the bits flow just as they should, and apparently that costs.

Thunderbolt-compatible hard drives are just now hitting the market. Considering the price of the cables needed to connect them to your Mac, however, casual users may be more inclined to stick with FireWire and USB drives for now and leave Thunderbolt’s substantially faster speeds for pro users.

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I really hope Apple adopts USB 3.0 soon. I have nothing against Thunderbolt, but if the cables are ging to be so expensive, it’s just not a solid competitor. USB 3.0 is already quite fast, so the advantages to Thunderbolt are slim.


Thunderbolt: The SCSI2 of the 21st century.

I realize it does so much more, but the cables are going to be just too expensive, at least near term.

Ross Edwards

I hate to say it, but that may be the truth.  This could end up niche-ing out due to cost.  Unless monoprice comes up with a $10 tb cable, who is really going to adopt?


I was looking for a backup drive. USB was not a long term solution as I need more speed. I was going to wait until I could find a drive with USB2 and Thunderbird. Finally last month I gave up and picked up a NAS and plugged it into my Airport.

I’m now glad I didn’t wait. The Cat5e cable was about a buck (I made it myself, YMMV) and I have all the speed I need.


While $50 for a cable is expensive, it is only a one time price - over the course of ownership, the cost to purchase becomes negligible.


@ geoduck.  I found a NAS drive (Iomega StorCentre) attached to various routers, including an Airport Extreme, was slow to respond to connections. Browsing the disk always resulted in the spinning ball. Data transfer speeds were OK; but I got tired of waiting for it to “warm up”.

I get much better results with an external drive attached to the Extreme via USB (Airdisk). But as you say YMMV.


Cables have been a major source of profit for retails stores for decades. 50% or greater markup is not uncommon, even with Monoprice, companies like Staples will still charge $15-30 for a USB cable. Apple’s retail store is no different, with $20-30 cables. It comes as no surprise that the sole company making available cables Apple will charge a premium for it.

What concerns me is with the amount of tech in the cables, that this early profiteering might not drop all that much when the market expands. Keep checking Monoprice though, I’ll be curious whether the $50 cable drops beneath $10 there.

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